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The Problem of Ancient Minor Languages.
        §3. The Pelasgian Problem.

"...The most significant among Hellenes are Athenians and Lacaedemonians. The first come from Ionic tribe, the second - from Doric tribe. And, Ionians are of Pelasgian origin, and Dorians - of Hellenic." (I, 56.)

This message belongs to Herodot, who wrote his "Historia" in the 5th century B.C. Pelasgians are so often met in different Ancient Greek manuscripts that we do not practically doubt they lived in Greece. The most widespread theory in ancient times was that Pelasgians were the Pre-Greek population of Southern Balkans and the Aegean Islands. Greek authors placed their native land in Fessalia, in Northern and Middle Greece, and on the majority of islands in the Aegean Sea.

According to Greeks, in the 5th and in the 4th century B.C. Pelasgians still lived in some regions of Greece, on several islands, and spoke a language Hellenes could not understand. Later they were assimilated completely, leaving practically no inscriptions, no books, no signs of their language in Greece, just some descriptions Greeks made themselves after them.

But were they Indo-Europeans?

It is well known that the first wave of Indo-European migrants who came to settle to Crete, the Aegean Islands and to Continental Greece from Asia Minor were Achaeans, the so-called "first wave of Greek migrants". It is they who created the Minoan on Crete and Mycenaean in Peloponnese civilizations. Then Doric tribes invaded Greece, but could easily understand the language of Achaeans, and nowadays Dorians and Achaeans are considered to have been just the two varieties of Greek population, with dialectal peculiarities in their common language.

But Pelasgian language was not understood by Achaeans. Herodot was Achaean himself (he was born in the Ionic city of Halicarnassus), but he wrote: "...We can conclude that Pelasgians spoke a barbarian language... Even now the citizens of Creston and Plakia speak another language, different from their neighbours'... But what about Hellenic tribes, to my mind, they always spoke one language." (I, 57-58.) That means Herodot could not understand Pelasgian and considered Pelasgian to be barbarian language, together with Lydian, Phoenician or Thracian.

Now let us refer to historical details. Pelasgians, having lived in Greece before Hellenes came, used to fight with newcomers, but evidently were crushed and lost their lands. In the epic poems of Homer (8th century B.C.), the Pelasgians are mentioned as the inhabitants of several locations in Greece including the ancient city of Dodona in eastern Epirus, southeastern Thrace, Argos, the Peloponnisos (Peloponnesus), and Crete. Herodot three centuries later names just two of their cities. The process of extinction went fast. Naturally, the only place they could survive for some time and avoid assimilation were small islands in the Aegean Sea. And only here we have one (maybe the only) evidence they really had their language.
Lemnos StoneLittle inscriptions were found on the island named Lemnos which proves Pelasgians lived there in their isolated community in the 7th and 6th century B.C. Hesiod, Homer and other Greek authors give us no doubt Lemnos's signs are of Pelasgian language. But they are not Indo-European. The language is completely unknown, and some researches even believe (following ancient legends) that Lemnos Island's inscriptions are close to Etruscan and Rhaetic language. That is how a theory was supported about the ties of Pelasgians and Etruscans: "If we judge for nowadays Pelasgians, who live north from Tyrsenans..." (I, 58). That is how Herodot shows neighbourhood of Etruscans (Tyrsenans) and Pelasgians. Strabo in the 1st century A.D. follows this theory: "Modern Cere [in Etruria] is said to have been founded by Pelasgians who came from Fessalia." (V, II, 3). Euripid in his "Archelaios" says that Pelasgians were the first people to settle on Lemnos and Imbros Islands, then inhabited Greece, and partly went to Italy led by Tirsenos, the ancestor of Etruscans.

Pelasgian MapAnd though Strabo and Hesiod believe Pelasgians used to be Hellenes, Etruscan language which has nothing in common with Greek proves they were not. But still there are too many contradictory sources of information. Greeks, who were sure that every nation had their Hellenic religion with just different names for gods, always called other peoples' divines Greek names: they called Egyptian Amon "Zeus", they called Celtic goddess Boann "Artemis" and so on, the same for every people. That is why Pelasgian gods, who could have their own names, were called "Zeus", "Apollo", "Hermes" by Greeks. Certainly, Pelasgians who lived nearby Greeks, could borrow their gods, myths and beliefs, but that does not prove, for example, that the Temple in Dodona many authors talk about was devoted to Zeus and not to an autochtonic Pelasgian god. Pelasgian might have similar cults, gods for rain, ground, sun and moon. The only description of Pelasgian sculptures, that of Zeus, believed to have been delivered to Larisa from Asia Minor, is described by Pausanius as having three eyes (II, 24) - a feature not common among Greek gods. Pelasgian religion must have been different from Indo-European.

And nevertheless, no one can be sure. In the 70s this century a Bulgarian linguist Georgiyev published his works where he tried to prove that Pelasgian language was of Indo-European origin. According to him, it was a representative of Paleo-Balkan languages, of their Thraco-Illyrian branch. Georgiyev cites Ancient Greek historians, Hesihios's dictionary and composes the so-called "Pelasgian glossary" - words in Greek borrowed from Pelasgian. Here we are glad to offer the full list of that glossary.

 aleifo - I smear
 asamindos - a bath
 astu - a town
 atembo - I offend
 afnos - wealth
 balios - white
 bretas - a statue
 gaia, ga - a land, a region
 deyo - I irrigate
 dunamai - I can
 eiko - I retreat
 elaion - butter
 derapne - a dwelling
 ide - a forest
 lahe - a pit
 neos - a temple
 pyndax - a bottom of a vase
 pyrgos - a tower

Based on his analysis of Pelasgian glossary, Georgiyev also gives a table of phonetic changes from Common Indo-European to Pelasgian:

on, un
p, t, k
ph, th, kh
b, d, g
p, t, k
bh, dh, gh
b, d, g
k', g', g'h
s ([þ], z [ð], d)
kw, gw, gwh
kh, k, g
s, sw-
As we can see, most of the changes remind those for Thracian and Phrygian languages, from Balkan language community. Greeks considered Thracians and Phrygians to be barbarians; the same with Pelasgians. But if Thracian words easily prove the language was Indo-European, all inscriptions are translated and the origin is clear, we cannot say such things about Pelasgian.

Too many arguable things. Inscriptions from Lemnos similar to Etruscan; legends about Pelasgian relativeness with Tyrsenans; common opinion that Pelasgians lived in Aegean region before Greeks arrived - that all gives us a chance to suppose: Pelasgian was not Indo-European. Its speakers were - together with Iberians in Spain, Aquitans in Southern France, Rhaetians and Ligurians in Alps, Etruscans in Italy - the representatives of the autochtonic, pre-Indo-European population of Southern Europe, the Mediterranean race which spoke a language we cannot define now. It was not Indo-European or Semitic; maybe just Basques can nowadays tell us what it was like.

But still there are a lot of "maybe". Etruscan is not deciphered yet, Pelasgian written documents were lost in history. A century ago the humanity knew nothing about Hittite or Tocharian languages; new archaeologic, historical and linguistic research can always give us more material about the past of Indo-Europeans. That is why we should not state anything with surety; just analyze, guess and search.